Here's what we emailed out the week of May 7, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.
Roughly 12,000 genetically-modified mosquitoes are being released every week in the Florida Keys, with an eventual goal of reaching one billion. These “exterminator” male mosquitoes (since males are non-biting!) have been genetically engineered to produce offspring that don’t live long enough to reproduce, slowly killing off their population and curbing the spread of Dengue, Zika, and Yellow Fever. Some skeptics worry, though, that 3-4% will survive into adulthood and potentially be more resistant to insecticides than wild mosquitoes, making the situation worse. Here’s to hoping the plan doesn’t bug out.
A historic opioid trial may pave the way for future settlements
Mon May 3
We’ve shared updates on the opioid epidemic in this newsletter many times. And sadly, how could we not? From 2019 being the deadliest year for overdose deaths (71,000 Americans) to corporations like Walmart evading criminal prosecution for selling opioids to addicts… a lot has been happening. Now, a historic opioid trial has begun in West Virginia that builds on a theory posed by over 3,000 lawsuits from states, local government, and Native American tribes: that drug distributors created a “public nuisance” by allowing powerful opioids like OxyContin to flood into their communities.
Over the past decade, Cabell County alone has had over 81 million doses prescribed for its population of 91,000, leading to thousands of overdoses and opioid-related deaths. The county’s lawyer claims that the three big pharma companies essentially brushed off growing concerns to maintain profits. The defense argues that they never supplied more pills than permitted by law while shifting blame to doctors and hospitals. A CNN/Harvard study, however, revealed doctors are rewarded by drug companies for increasing prescriptions to opioids. Outside the case, researchers have pointed fingers at the FDA for what has become the worst drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history for two reasons:
- First, regulatory failures. The FDA routinely approves drugs with limited clinical trials and little information on potential safety risks.
- Second, misleading direct-to-consumer ads. The FDA has flexible rules for pharmaceutical ads. For example, an ad can air without mentioning associated risks as long as it mentions where you can go to learn about them.
Dubbed the “man-made plague,” the opioid crisis has only worsened in the pandemic. From February to May of last year, estimated monthly deaths grew 50%. While the three pharmaceutical companies involved in this lawsuit (and Johnson & Johnson, who also makes some opioids) have offered $26.4 billion to help pay for the damage caused, the West Virginia case says it’s not enough — especially since they’d only get 1% of it. Similar trials are set to begin in California and New York state courts next month.
Some additional resources...
- Recent coverage on trial: Wall Street Journal
- The 2020 FDA study: WebMD
- COVID spikes of overdose deaths: Commonwealth Fund
- FDA failures + advertising: Journal of Ethics
- Data on deadliest year: CDC
- Walmart investigation: Propublica
- Study on opioid payment incentives: Harvard
OIL & GAS
Montana set to have harshest anti-protest law yet
Mon May 4
Multiple states have passed (or are considering) legislation that effectively quells free speech and targets Indigenous communities. Here’s the breakdown:
- Pipeline projects often cut off access to the main water sources for Indigenous communities.
- While projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline continue despite opposition, sometimes the advocacy pays off, such as with the Keystone Pipeline project Biden cancelled his first day in office — though Republicans have banded together to file a lawsuit against his decision.
- Now, states that benefit from pipelines (through construction jobs or financial support from oil and gas companies) have started passing anti-protest laws that can land advocates in jail and with hefty fines.
Arkansas and Kansas have passed similar laws, but Montana is the harshest:
- Obstructing operations (aka protesting) at oil and gas facilities can lead to jail for up to 18 months and a $4,500 fine.
- If any damage is done, this goes up to 30 months and up to $150,000 in fines.
- And any groups that help organize such demonstrations can be charged as “conspirators” with up to $1.5 million in fines.
But Montana isn’t stopping there in their fight to protect fossil fuel interests. A slew of bills have been introduced (or passed) to protect coal operations and fossil fuel interests while undercutting renewables. For example, SB 379 would have helped coal operations recoup revenue lost due to bans on coal taking effect in states that used to purchase from Montana coal operations. While the bill was officially tabled thanks to the 4,000 emails from constituents, it would have allowed coal operators to pull from ratepayers even if the plant is shut down. Another legal effort allows counties to investigate (aka harass) environmental groups on everything from the “composition” of its members to their activities since 2011 (when coal protests began picking up).
Some additional resources...
- Details on latest anti-protest laws: Grist
- Montana’s bill: HB 481
- Montana’s bill explained: Gizmodo
- Montana’s other pro-fossil fuel bills: Gizmodo
- Lawsuit against Biden: Yahoo News
ASCII ART OF THE WEEK
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These new guys in town really bug me.
Art Credit: ascii.website